TIFF Review: ‘IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK’ another intimate and poignant drama from Barry Jenkins


James Cole Clay // Film Critic


Rated R, 117 minutes.
Director: Barry Jenkins
Cast: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Aunjanue Ellis, Ebony Obsidian, Brian Tyree Henry, Finn Wittrock, Diego Luna and Ed Skrein

Director Barry Jenkins’ second film, MOONLIGHT, came from thin air and became a transcendent piece of filmmaking that chronicled a young man over an indistinguishable period of time in his life. It was a special moment in film history that shined a light on people, orientations and financial situations that are historically underrepresented on camera.

His latest, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, will never be able to escape the talk of the film that came before it. Nor is it as accessible as the subject matter may suggest. However, it finds its own poetry in motion and works best as a visual experience on its own terms. Jenkins infuses his own luscious colors palettes, blending the voice of the source material that remembers the past with an omnipresent voice for an explosion of lyrical love.

Based on the 1974 book authored by James Baldwin, the film’s aforementioned voice comes from 19-year-old Tish (newcomer KiKi Layne is the ultimate discovery), who fondly recalls telling her lover, 22-year-old Fonny (Stephan James). that she’s pregnant with their first child. That’s intertwined with another timeline about how she is coping with the racial tension amongst the cops in Harlem amidst Fonny’s impending incarceration on a falsified rape charge.

Jenkins uses this relationship to open the film up to a broader context of how this young couple stayed hopeful in the most unlikely circumstances. She fawns over him in voiceover saying, “He turns away and laughs, but he’s still holding my hand.” Tish takes her love for Fonny and the hope for their baby wherever she goes. And with the support Nicolas Brittell’s swooning score, it’s this optimism that keeps the human spirit alive in them.

Cinematographer James Laxton (also of MOONLIGHT) shoots these nostalgic scenes with a sense that time has ceased to exist. It’s as if there’s a bubble protecting the lovebirds from the outside world, a forcefield that could break at any moment. Laxton’s collaborations with Jenkins provide the viewer with a grand sense of wonder.

Aside from the puppy-dog romance, the real story – the heart of the movie – comes from the mix of these two families doing everything in their power to clear Fonny’s name. Tish’s mother, Sharon (Regina King), is at the center of the process, owning the screen and fighting back her loss of confidence.

BEALE STREET is a satisfying movie that relies on the conventional aspects of a romance and uses the ups and downs of life to discuss the injustices in America’s social landscapes. Jenkins has broadened his filmmaking talents to a more showy display of visual emotion. We see Tish and Fonny grow together, while listening to a life well lived. Change is constant in BEALE STREET, but it’s the intoxicating pleasure of family that keep us all going.

[Grade: A-]

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK premiered on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018. The Toronto International Film Festival will have an encore screening on 9/12 (P&I screening). Visit tiff.net for more details on the showtimes. IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK will release on Nov. 30, 2018 through Annapurna Pictures and Stage 6 Films.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.